Grand Manan Field Studies 2016: For Photos and Fog

GUEST POST BY JOSEPH BRADBURY
For Photos and Fog

On Friday, July 15, a group of us visiting from the University of Arizona awoke before dawn to a muzzle of fog settling over Grand Manan. We headed for Seal Cove, to a boat, Island Bound, where Russell Ingalls and Mark Morse would steam a small group out the Kent Island. Aboard, there was a group from the Bowdoin College Scientific Research Station, a couple of tourists, islanders Liam Watkins and Delaney Ingersoll, Peter Cunningham, his partner Ara Fitzgerald, and their friend Paul Kaiser from away. Some of those on the boat had clear interests in Kent Island—research, birds, flora—but for others on the boat, interest in the island dates back almost a century, through the tendrils of a bloodline rooted deep in the heart of that small, cloudy island.

When Peter Cunningham arrived at the dock he propped his hand out to everyone he didn’t know, introduced himself, and then said hi to his already familiar acquaintances. He’s magnanimous and kind, playful in his conversations, and manages to elicit a thoughtful response from anyone who engages. He’s observant and curious, and these are perhaps his most useful traits as a career photographer. On the boat he shows me a new belt holster he got for his camera that he explains makes it much easier for him to tag along the device without the discomfort a neck strap causes. It might seem strange that Peter chose photography as an art and occupation, given that his father, Bob Cunningham, was a long time cloud physicist and meteorologist who performed a fog and atmospheric study on Kent Island for 70 years.

Peter Cunningham chatting with Delaney Ingalls and Peyton Stark on the Island Bound.

Peter Cunningham chatting with Delaney Ingalls and Peyton Stark on the Island Bound.

I never had the pleasure of meeting Bob, but I have heard some of his stories. On Kent, there is a small 8’x6’ shack, aptly named Fog Heaven, that was built specifically for Bob so that he could stop propping his instruments in the field under a thin tarp draped over drift wood, and sealed at the seams with tar. His curiosity was immense, like his son’s, and Bob couldn’t hide it behind the toothy grin he bares in every photo I’ve seen. In one he’s atop a thin aluminum pole secured to a roof with thin wire, fixing an anemometer, his grin intact, flying one hand at the camera in the undoubtedly chilled air, a ball cap draped on his head. In another, he’s above the cockpit on an old World War II plane securing instruments. He worked all over the world, with numerous companies and organizations, after graduating from MIT, that he might understand the most basic entity of survival: Air.

The group looking in on Fog Heaven.

The group looking in on Fog Heaven.

***

Since the advent of the Industrial Revolution until mid-century, the United States was free to burn coal and wood at factories, send plumes of smoke and steam into the atmosphere with impunity. This was a much different time, I don’t have to tell you, when we didn’t understand that everything in this world is one organism exchanging particles and particulates with other single entities. We didn’t understand global warming, and only had a vague idea about weather patterns and the dissemination of harmful chemicals on winds. I imagine some scientists, and the average citizen gazed into the clear, blue sky and didn’t put stock in what exactly they couldn’t see. This, however, was not Bob Cunningham’s position.

Bob was prophetic in his vision as he was inspired in his claims. After his years at MIT, Bob worked for Air Force Cambridge Research Labs to study the effects of flying through rough weather. He and his crew lit out nose first into hail and thunderstorms. Bob mounted probes on their plane to attract lightning. Their weather-hardened C-130 and its crew earned the nickname, “Cunningham’s Roughriders” and the insignia was painted on the side of the plane. After the AFCRL, Bob directed scientists from all over the world for the UN’s World Meteorological Organization. He traveled the world extensively and studied cloud physics, cloud seeding and precipitation enhancement in every type of climate. All the while he maintained collecting fog and weather samples from Kent Island.

So Bob studied fog on Kent Island. For seventy years. Structures were built on Kent to perform the studies. Where once Bob and his colleagues used large steel drums to capture fog, later there were nets that drain the saturated air into graduated containers. And still atop the radio shack, near where Bob’s cabin stands, an anemometer spins in the gusts and gales.

To say that Bob’s studies on Kent Island were impressive would be an understatement. His work there may be the single longest, continuous scientific study by one person working in one place. Ever. This alone is worthy of tribute. But for Bob, that study and his work out there meant something. And while recording information is useful, its interpretation is key. Bob saw something in the air that you and I can’t. It was clear it was there because over on Grand Manan trees were stripped of leaves and ground vegetation couldn’t thrive. What Bob discovered was that factories in the Mid-west were dumping particulates in the air that were catching a ride on the jet stream and dumping acid rain on the northeast. This discovery, as would be later noted by President Lyndon B. Johnson, was absolutely integral to passing the Clean Air Act of 1963. Not only did this new law force regulations on the factories in the Mid-west, this began a long history of citizens fighting for environmental rights, air quality, and higher emission standards that are still applicable, and improved upon today. From that boggy little island just a few miles southeast of Grand Manan, Bob Cunningham veritably changed the world, forever.

Bob "Fogseeker" Cunningham fixing the anemometers.

Bob “Fogseeker” Cunningham fixing the anemometers.

***

Bob fascinates me because Bob is fascinating. Peter intrigues me because he’s kind and talented and goads conversations with innocuous, playful tactics. I can see his charm in every one of his father’s photos, in that smile. But this is not the only time when photography and cloud physics overlap. A photograph records a moment in time on the infinite spectrum of before and after. In that small segment of recorded data, reproduced as an image, there is a multitude of stories, and my guess is that Peter knows the stories behind every one of his photos. He points and snaps, shutters a bit of light to record and memory. And then that experience is opened up to endless translation and human understanding. In this way photography is a language as universal as mathematics and as applicable as any science. While all those years, in front of all those instruments, Bob was there recording other moments of time, noting the numbers, calculating their relevance, and translating their patterns into a language the rest of us might understand: love and human preservation.

It obvious to assume that interest is the foundation of love. Thus, Bob’s interest was in documenting the sky and this can be interpreted into a love for humanity. That is a kind of generosity and pureness of spirit I can only imagine, and one, on the daily, I try to assume. It’s no wonder that Peter is a Buddhist who finds such genuine pleasure in observing and interacting with the people and landscape of this place, that his favorite walk on earth is on Kent Island, through a field of thigh-high grass and wind-stripped conifers to the south shore where the breakers roar on the tempestuous tide. It’s no wonder that he chose to record data, much like his father, and it’s no wonder that his quiet and modest expression holds all the love and spirit of his father.

Last Friday, Peter took his favorite walk with his partner Ara. As he returned he stopped to see his father who still remains on the island, even after his death in 2008. Before catching the boat home, Peter opened the door to the Fog Heaven where his father slept and studied, where Bob’s ashes still remain. Peter took the hat he was wearing off his head and exchanged it for one resting on the box and said, “Thanks for the hat, Dad.” He turned around, smiling, and walked out the door toward the dock.

The walk, headed south, on Kent Island.

The walk, headed south, on Kent Island.

Grand Manan Field Studies 2016: Archives

July 17

GUEST POST BY DANIELLE GELLER

To collect, preserve, and make accessible: If you read enough archival mission statements, you’ll see these words again and again. As a former almost-archivist—one who received her degree but left the profession before earning the full-fledged title—I’ve read quite a few, and I knew before I even arrived on Grand Manan that I wanted to visit their archives. With rain and cold weather on the forecast, there was no better time.

The archives are housed within the Grand Manan Museum, in an addition that was built in 1997—the same year Ava Sturgeon assumed the title of Archivist. Though not formally trained in archives management, Ava learned all she could from Gleneta Hettrick, the former archivist, who also worked as a librarian and history school teacher on the island. The position itself is only a part-time position, funded largely through donations (by individuals and local organizations like the Rotary Club) and matching provincial grants.

Ava in Archives

Ava Sturgeon stands in the “vault,” the archives’ storage space. Plastic sheets are draped over the shelves because the Museum’s roof is leaking, and they are trying to raise the funds to repair it.

 

As is true for almost all archives, funding is always a high concern. It’s never certain how much funding the archives will receive, or when, but Ava has learned to be resourceful. When they needed shelving for their new storage area—which could have run thousands of dollars—Ava asked around town. A boat-building company had just replaced the shelving in their warehouse and left the old sitting outside in the elements, but Ava hauled the shelves to the archives, sanded off the rust, and repainted them herself.

To process the archives’ collections, Ava relies heavily on volunteers—often, retired members of the community who are invested in preserving the history of the island. When we arrived on Monday morning, two women from the genealogical society were seated in front of a computer, transcribing names from New Brunswick’s census. As is also true of many archives, genealogical research is one of the most popular areas of study. But skimming through the available finding aids—located in a three-ring binder and complete with collection descriptions, scope and content notes, and container lists (even down to the folder!)—offered research opportunities ranging from the history of churches and local businesses on Grand Manan to scientific research conducted on the neighboring islands.

I wanted to read about birds.

The Grand Manan Museum houses Allen Moses’ Bird Collection: eighteen cases holding over three hundred species of bird found on the island. In addition to being a prolific taxidermist, Allen Moses was instrumental in the preservation of the Common Eider, whose nests were plundered for eggs and down, leaving the eiders close to extinction in the Bay of Fundy. The Grand Manan Archives is in possession of many of Moses’ papers and correspondence, and there are additional collections that include reports of bird sightings and populations on Grand Manan, Kent Island, Machias Seal Island, and others across the bay.

Joesph & Peyton Archives

 

 

Joseph and Peyton spent the morning digging through the archives, too. Joseph rifled through a box of black and white photographs and tintypes from the 1860’s and 1890’s. Peyton looked through the collection of books that lined the shelves—and even found a book of recipes (for birds!) that we’ve yet to try.

One of our best finds, though, was a poem about a puffin, shaped like a muffin, who hadn’t anybody to play with at all. I won’t spoil the ending for you.

Grand Manan Field Studies 2016: from sea to steamers to soup

GUEST POST BY PEYTON PRATER STARK
sea to steamers to soup

Among my many goals for our time on Grand Manan Island, catching, cooking, and eating seafood was at the top. Growing up in Denver, with a rising interest in eating locally and a budget that rarely included lobster and shellfish, I always loved ocean cuisine, but rarely took part. So, when Michael Brown offered to take us clamming, I was immediately in. Michael Brown is somewhat a legend on Grand Manan. I heard about him from last year’s U of A Field Studies participants, who were offered a similar lesson in clamming. When we arrived on the island, I heard rumors about this eighteen-year-old fisherman, a recent graduate of Grand Manan Community School, who spends his time balancing successful business ventures in the dulsing, lobster, and clamming industries.

When we pull up to the shore in Grand Harbour to meet with Michael, he is slinging bright blue lobster traps from one giant stack to an even taller stack. He waves hello, and explains his recent discovery that he can stack the traps – each weighing around seventy pounds, each heavier than I’d like to carry – seven high. I believe him because he proves it, all while describing to us how lobster traps have developed over the past ten years. After this brief lesson, he grabs the clam hacks and we make our way to the beach.

I am giddy and hardly trying to hide it. Michael explains the art of clamming as though anyone can do it. Step one: look for holes in the sand. Step two: dig the hack – a tool similar to a garden hand rake, only infinitely cooler than the hand rake that we brought along – into the sand, then leverage it to pull up as much as possible. Step three: look for clams and put them in the bucket.

Easier said than done. I struggle with step one, finally realizing that if I can’t see any holes in the sand, I just have to pick a spot and start digging. Which I do, and it works! Behold: the first clams I ever dug.

clam

Michael has a clamming license, which is necessary for him to sell his wares. Otherwise, he explains, one can dig 100 clams a day for personal use. Together, Danielle, Joseph, Alison and I dig up maybe 50 clams, well below our collective limit of 400, but enough for a nice meal, and enough to make my hands start to hurt.

michaelclampeytonclam

Pictured left: Master clammer Michael Brown, showing us how it’s done. Right: me with a clam hack.

As we head back to the car, Michael talks us through the current market for sea products on the island, intel that I aim to commit to memory as I begin to imagine my post-grad school life as a full-time clammer. Michael explains that he used to make all his money clamming. Now, he spends part of his time collecting dulse, nori, and sea lettuce, depending on the price, in addition to his lucrative job lobster fishing.

I wave goodbye and head with our team, and our clams, back to Alison’s house to begin what I view as an equally crucial part of the clamming experience: cooking. My seafood culinary skills are fairly limited, as in: I can grill salmon. I have never cooked with clams, so I hover around Alison as she demonstrates the process.

Her method is fairly simple. First, we soak the clams in a bucket of fresh water. Apparently, if you do this for a while, the clams clean themselves out. We are slightly impatient, and hungry, so we skimp a bit on this step. We boil a bit of water in a huge stock pot (a true kitchen staple on this island) and dump the clams in to steam. Then we melt a whole lot of butter.

That is about it. When the clams open up about five minutes later, we strain them onto a tray, which we plant in the middle of the table. We saved some of the clam broth so that we can give them a good bath (an easy fix if you just don’t have time to soak them) before dousing them in butter.

No more than a half hour after we leave Michael Brown, I find myself sitting around the table eating the freshest seafood I have ever enjoyed. This is the definition of eating locally, knowing where your food comes from. As our bellies fill – as we shift from eating the clams, to simply talking about how much we adore the clams – Alison makes another one of my dreams come true.

“If we have clams left over,” she says, “you can take them home and make chowder.”

Since arriving on the island, I have been sneaking away to read recipes from the Grand Manan Cookbook, a collaborative publication compiled by the Grand Manan Hospital Auxiliary. Alison has two editions – one from 1979, and a newer edition published a few years back. Just earlier than day, I scored a reprint of the 1952 edition from the Grand Manan Museum. Among delicious recipes for lobster stew, lobster curry, baked fish of all varieties – and two delightful recipes for cod tongues, which I have yet to track down on the island, is a recipe for clam chowder.

So, I decide to do it. I am going to follow a Grand Manan recipe. I am going to make chowder with Grand Manan clams. The recipe was contributed by Maud Harvey, and reads as follows:

CLAM CHOWDER
1 pint potatoes sliced; 1 onion sliced; 1 teaspoon salt.
Cover with water and cook till potatoes are tender.
Add 1 pint shelled clams; 1 can evaporated milk; 1 large teaspoon butter; little pepper and a little more salt if desired. Add milk last and do not let boil.

I resist the urge to add the dulse flakes that were given to us the day before. I resist the urge to chop up the garlic scapes I bought at the farmer’s market. I trust Maud and I do what she tells me. I read the recipe twenty times and obsess over in which order, exactly, to add the milk and clams. And then, twenty minutes later, I pour a steaming bowl of chowder and marvel at the consistency. I wander out to the porch and savor the salty essence of ocean’s clams, how it mellows with the richness of milk and butter.

cooking chowder

I thank Maud for her simple, yet inarguably crucial contribution to the Grand Manan Cookbook. I thank Michael Brown for his detailed lesson in clamming. I am currently busy planning my future. As Michael diversifies his products, maybe, I think, I could dig for clams, make chowder, sell chowder. I want desperately to belong in a food system such as this – where one digs the food from the earth, combines it with as little as possible, follows recipes integral to a community, and shares it with friends. 

I have no illusions that I could step into the tradition of clamming and sustain a reasonable business right away. But I can learn! I can study! Perhaps Michael will take an apprentice? I realize that, first off, my plan requires a few simple life changes.

Step one: buy a clam hack.

Step two: move to Grand Manan.

Chowder

 

 

 

GRAND MANAN FIELD STUDIES 2016: New Arrivals

0706161445_resizedDanielle Geller, Peyton Prayter Stark and Joseph Bradbury on board the Grand Manan V heading for the island for a two-week visit.

These three writers from the MFA Program in Creative Writing at the University of Arizona kick off our second year of this project, supported by the Agnese Nelms Haury Program in Environment and Social Justice. The students will work on research and writing projects during their visit, as well as mentoring Grand Manan high students on their projects, whether that might be a poem, essay, photo-essay, video or oral history. Together we are working to create a portrait of this unique place, its history as a fishing community and its shifting economy with herring and ground fish on the decline and lobsters on the rise. What forces in nature and culture have shaped this place and what forces will shape its future? How do writing and other art forms help us to understand this time of change on the island and the ways that climate change is likely to shape its future? Our Arizona students arrive with eyes and notebooks open to learn all they can during their visit, and we welcome Grand Manan students to help be their guides to understanding what it feels like to be coming of age in this remarkable place of beauty, hard work, stories and self-determination.

Stay tuned for posts here on our new website www.fieldstudiesgrandmanan.com as the adventure unfolds.

Grand Manan Field Studies in Writing: Lobster Fishing in the Grey Zone

GUEST POST AND VISUALS BY FRANCISCO CANTÚ, MFA Candidate in Creative Writing, University of Arizona

LOBSTERING IN THE GREY ZONE

The day we spent lobster fishing in the “Grey Zone” south of Grand Manan was, without question, the longest day of our trip, and it also the required the earliest start. We set our alarms at 4AM and while Page and Jan ate a quick breakfast of PB&J, I cooked up a box of Kraft macaroni and cheese (known as “Kraft Dinner” in Canada) in order to “carbo load” for the Grand Manan Half Marathon, which I would foolhardily run later that day.

We arrived at the Seal Cove wharf at 4:45, before the first light had begun to glow on the Eastern horizon. Several days ago Jan had interviewed one of Grand Manan’s most respected fisherman, Laurence Cook, and through charm and good fortune managed to arrange for the three of us to tag along with him for a day of lobster fishing. “Be prepared for a long day,” he advised.

At the docks, a man approached us and asked if we were the students from Arizona. He introduced himself as a member of Laurence’s crew, and we began to pepper him with a slow onslaught of questions. “This is a good boat to be on,” he told us. “Laurence is a smart man. If anyone’s gonna catch ’em, it’s him.”

When Laurence showed up, at 5 o’clock on the dot, his two crew members jumped into action, unmooring the boat and packing bait pouches with rotting herring. “The smellier it is, the more they like it,” one of the men told us, grinning. But even lobsters have standards, we soon found out. One of the herring boxes, left in the sun a few days too many, was writhing with maggots, and to our relief was summarily dumped overboard.

Pacoimage1-2

As we sailed out of Seal Cove toward the open sea, we were treated to a remarkable sunrise–our only one of the trip, due to many late nights fueled by long conversations with our island hosts. Laurence explained the particulars of fishing in the “Grey Zone” to us as we sailed south in the early morning light. In Canada, the lobster season runs from November until the end of June, with a strict moratorium on laying traps during the off months. In the US, however, fisherman are allowed to catch lobster year-round.

Because of a still-unresolved jurisdictional dispute over international fishing rights between Canada and the US, a “Grey Zone” has existed along the border between New Brunswick and Maine, where vessels from both countries are allowed to fish the same waters. Canadian boats are allowed to fish lobster within the Grey Zone outside the regular season, as long as they submit to the installation of black box devices that ping their location every 15 minutes via satellite to Canada’s Department of Fisheries and Oceans, ensuring that they don’t venture into sovereign American waters.

Laurence, despite having taken advantage of the extra months of lobstering since the opening of the Grey Zone to Canadian fishermen 2002, told us that he’d prefer an “equitable, rational plan” to the hazy status quo of the present. Fishing in crowded and disputed waters ratchets up tensions between competing Canadian and American fisherman–and sometimes even among countrymen. Traps are frequently cut, leaving a multitude of ropes, anchors and countless lobster traps unrecoverable on the bottom of the sea floor at great cost to fisherman. Guns have been pulled. Pursuits through fog and bad weather have ensued. Canadian vessels have been boarded by the U.S. Coast Guard, at risk of causing an “international incident.” “The younger guys come out here and get excited,” Laurence explains, but it is clear that he prefers to operate with a bit more calm and reserve. “I don’t wanna start a war,” he tells us.

As we arrived in the Grey Zone, Laurence pointed out the microwave towers on the coastline of nearby Cutler, Maine. Rising up in the water was the pale lighthouse of Machias Seal Island, where Canada staffs one of the only non-automated lighthouses in the country in order to maintain a claim on the island based on “continual use.”

As we approached the first line of traps (known as a trawl), Laurence told us that he expected the worst haul of the year today. “The lobsters are about to shed,” he said, leaving us to wonder if that somehow tempered their appetite for rotting herring. Laurence then positioned his boat beside one of his distinctively-painted balloons and his crew began a process that would be repeated again and again throughout the day–the hauling up of the trawls that had been left sitting on the ocean floor unchecked since the previous week. Since I’d need at least another three paragraphs to describe this process, I’ll let the following videos do some the explaining:

The hauling-up:

The letting-out:

It’s safe to say that Jan, Page, and I spent the better part of the ensuing hours marveling at the strength, efficiency, and hard-working focus of Laurence’s crew as they engaged in the bewildering multi-tasking necessary to safely complete this process time after time. Adrift as we were on flat, sunny waters, we were further baffled by the fact that these men were required to do the same back-breaking work at this pace through all manner of inclement weather–in the freezing cold and during roiling storms. We had all heard that commercial fishing was the most dangerous occupation in the world, and now we understood why: whizzing pullies, the constant looping and unfurling of rope, the fast sinking of anchors and traps–all of it threatening to meet even the most temporary lapse in attention with a quick snap, whip, pull, or drag into the frigid waters of the Bay of Fundy.

Page caught this one.

Page caught this one.

After nearly 14 hours aboard the boat, we were in awe of Laurence’s sharp presence of mind and the hardworking perseverance of his crew. Laurence and his men were frustrated with the day’s haul–they suspected that several of their trawls had already been hauled up and picked through by rival fishing vessels during the week. Indeed, there was a palpable air of lawlessness in the Grey Zone, the same lingering threat of disorder and unpredictability that so often pervades along unguarded frontiers. It was obvious that Laurence does his best to stay above it, to temper himself during tense situations as much as possible. Many of Laurence’s trawls had been laid on top of that day, and we watched him painstakingly cut and and knot his ropes to re-make his trawl lines. “I don’t cut other people’s traps and they don’t cut mine,” he told us.

After all, he’s not trying to start a war.

image2-2

Thanks to Page for this photo

Thanks to Page for this photo

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

P.S. from Alison:

Paco did run in the half marathon, a benefit for the Grand Manan Boys and Girls Club, at the end of a nearly fourteen-hour lobstering day. He won third place. Talk about stamina. Though there were only three men in the race. Still a mighty day.  

 

Paco0717151929_resized

On Ruin and Renewal

Grand MananAlison Hawthorne Deming pens guest editorial for Terrain.org

A winter storms into its galactic arms. New York City took a major hit. I happened at the time to be on Grand Manan Island watching the Bay of Fundy churn, the surf rake rock against rock on the Castalia shore in front of my home.

I’d come to my family’s retreat in Atlantic Canada for a much needed week of writing. I was reading an essay by one of my Tucson students about gang life in the city. “If he was going to slang,” she wrote, “he’d better get strapped up.” A drug dealer was out for justice over the mismeasure of his goods. He was heading for a club, armed and righteous. This is not fiction. This is the daily life of one student, a woman who comes to class wearing a white wife-beater that showcases her spectacular tattoos. She has a smile as warm as Oprah. Sometimes there’s a sheepish quality to it, as if she’s asking, “What am I doing in this movie?” She knows how to use a Glock. “You’re gonna need it,” her boyfriend said, looking after her. She’s lost so many friends to the street, she’s afraid to count them. Still, she feels pride in belonging, hanging with a guy who wants to put Tucson on the map, wants to make it as badass as L.A. or New York.

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